Reverberations from the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have cast a pall over the usual festivity of the "Christmas" season. This situation brings to mind a song by the sixties' folk-rock team, Simon and Garfunkle: "Silent Night/5:00 News." One speaker emits a beautiful duet of the Christmas carol "Silent Night," while the other blares out the worst news you can imagine from the height of the Vietnam War era. I don't think Paul Simon intended to praise "Jesus, Lord, at thy birth." Rather, I think he intended to mock Christians, to show them up as unrealistic dreamers who indulge in wishful thinking while the world goes to hell. In any case, he powerfully illustrated the very reason why the Son of God did appear. He came because of the bad news! God says that "the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).
Jesus' birth was no ordinary birth. "The Son of God appeared." God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, "appeared." He became flesh (John 1:1-3, 14). Born of the virgin Mary, almighty God himself became man. The Maker of the heavens and the earth entered our world and took on himself our human nature. He did not stop being God, but he added a human nature to himselfone person with two natures, divine and human.
God told Joseph, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). The name Jesus means "Jehovah is salvation" or "Jehovah saves." But we can legitimately paraphrase it as "God-to-the-Rescue" because that's exactly who Jesus is: God to the rescue.
The terrorism of September 11 didn't take God by surprise. It didn't spoil his appearing. No, it and the countless acts of terrorism that have occurred all through the ages and all around the world are the very reason for his appearing. Why did the Son of God appear? "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil."
What are the works of the devil? Jesus called the devil a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), and that's exactly what he is. He deceives and destroys. He's the ultimate murderer behind all murders. He's the ultimate liar behind all lies. He's the ultimate sinner behind all sins.
Good and evil aren't equal, eternal forceslike yin and yang, or the light side and the dark side. No, from eternity past, God is good. But evil got started in heaven itself when angels rebelled against the God who created them. They became the devil and the demons who follow his malevolent leadership.
Genesis 3 tells how evil invaded our world. Evil came to earth because we asked it to come. Read Genesis 3! Ever since our first parents, Adam and Eve, fell into sin, human history has been ugly and harsh. We experience sin and misery under God's curse. Disease, natural disasters, and death all find their roots in our original fall into sin and in God's just curse upon our sin. Every time a human being made in God's image cries out in pain, the devil feels wicked satisfaction. Every time someone grieves at the loss of a loved one, the devil gloats with depraved joy. The devil is a liar and a murderer.
And his most wicked work of all is the sin that we humans do. Under Satan's malignant domination, we are a whole race of liars and murderers. We don't necessarily kill each other literally. Sometimes we do, as in the terrorist attacks. But we can each be just as cruel and just as evil without being anywhere near that blatant.
The Bible exposes our selfishness, our greed, our apathy, our lust, our envy, etc., for the wickedness that it is. It unmasks the gravity of our failure to live as those designed to bear the image of the holy God. We continually fall short of the glory of God, that image that God holds us responsible to manifest (Rom. 3:23). Our refusal is cosmic treason against the living God who created us and to whom we owe love with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength. Instead, each and every one of us is befouled by the works of the devil.
Nor can we shift the onus to the devil. God's Word tells us that we do just what we want to do. We want to live ungrateful lives, independent of our Creator and Sustainer, the God in whom we live and move and have our being. We're "bad to the bone," polluted from our very core to every part of our being. "I know that nothing good dwells within me" (Rom. 7:18). Nothing good! These are the works of the devil. And we are the willing workers of the devil's works. The devil takes fiendish delight every time he sees a human beingoriginally made in the image of Godlooking more like the devil. He loves to see us depraved, enslaved, and doomed to hell. And that's exactly what we deserveto be eternally cut off from our Maker, whom we have so deeply offended.
When God says that "the Son of God appeared ... to destroy the works of the devil," it isn't just wishful thinking. Jesus succeeded in the mission that God sent him to accomplish.
But it sure doesn't look like he succeeded. His birth was lowly. And as an adult, he had no place to lay his head. Who could guess from appearances that this was the Son of God, who had come to destroy the works of the devil? He preached and healed. But then he died young, horribly put to death. He was despised and rejected by men. He was crucified, a fate reserved for the worst of criminals. His death looks like the opposite of victoryand not just because of its appalling disgrace. It looks like failure because, as he hung there, God unleashed his white-hot wrath and curse against him. God damned Jesus. Jesus suffered the full torment of hell. "Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree" (Gal. 3:13, quoting Deut. 21:23). Is it any wonder that people think that Jesus' birth and death don't look like he destroyed the works of the devil?
But what did the incarnate Son of God accomplish? When the devil incited the crucifixion of Christ, he thought he won the ultimate victory. But actually he went "a bridge too far" in his war against God. When Jesus died on the cross, he did precisely what he had planned to do, as part of an intra-Trinitarian arrangement from all eternity (Acts 2:23). He accomplished exactly what he intended to accomplish. He voluntarily laid down his life in the place of his elect, in order to redeem them by making satisfaction to God for their sins. He suffered the punishment of hell as a substitute for sinners. He satisfied God's justice for them. He propitiated God's wrath for them. He redeemed God's elect.
By his own death, Jesus defeated death. Therefore, it was impossible for death to hold him. He arose victorious from death, never to die again. And his victory is victory for everyone who entrusts himself to him. Just as he rose to eternal life, so he raises everyone who belongs to him to eternal life. God-to-the-Rescue gives us new life right now. When we die, he perfects our souls and takes them to be with him. And when he returns in power and glory, he will liberate even our bodies from decay. He will transform them into the likeness of his glorious body.
You can never experience the real hope behind "Christmas" until you understand who Mary's baby, born in Bethlehem, really was and why he came. Jesus was and is the Son of GodGod-to-the-RescueGod incarnate, come to wage war, to destroy the works of the devil. Cling to Jesus as your Savior. Submit to him as your Lord.
The baby of Bethlehem is God's warrior, who came to liberate us from the ultimate terrorist. The September 11 attacks didn't surprise him. Jesus came to rescue us from this world of terror. Jesus came to rescue us in our terrorized lives. And that means that there's hope for you if you rest in Jesus as the Son of God and embrace him as your Savior. Ask King Jesus to rescue you from the devil's power. That's why he came. "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil."
The author is the general secretary for the Committee on Christian Education. He quotes the ESV. Reprinted from New Horizons, December 2001.